MOBILE, Ala. — If there was a question whether a rain delay would affect the focus of Louisiana-Lafayette’s softball team, it was answered in a big hurry Thursday.
The Ragin’ Cajuns made a mockery of their first outing in the Sun Belt Conference softball championships, rolling to a 13-1 run-rule victory over fourth-seeded Georgia State to advance to Friday’s winners’ bracket finals.
The top-seeded Cajuns (41-7) scored 11 runs in the second inning, sending 16 batters to the plate against three Panthers pitchers — one of them making two separate appearances — in that inning. UL-Lafayette had eight hits in the first two innings and took advantage of eight walks.
“Our kids are ready to play,” coach Michael Lotief said after Thursday’s opening game that was stopped after 41/2 innings. “However we have to do it … if we fall into the losers’ bracket and have to grind our way back, we have a plan for that. It’s a crazy game, and you know whatever you plan, that’s not what’s going to happen.”
The Cajuns couldn’t have imagined an 11-run second inning, especially after a 50-minute rain delay when showers struck right at the end of the opening inning. UL-Lafayette led 2-0 at the time after Aleah Craighton drove in two runs with a two-out single in the first.
“We weren’t going to focus on the weather,” said Craighton, who also had a two-run double in the second inning. “We just kept ourselves free, chilled out some and tried to keep focused on what we needed to do. This team focuses on every pitch.”
The ninth-ranked Cajuns didn’t have to focus as much as normal as the Panther pitching staff was having monumental troubles with control. When starter Amanda Chance was relieved after giving up three singles and hitting a batter in the second inning, reliever Annie Davis proceeded to allow the next six batters to reach base — three hits, two walks and a hit batsman.
Third pitcher Chelsea Stanfield didn’t fare any better, hitting one batter and walking one surrounding an infield error. Chance finally re-entered and recorded the final two outs of the inning, but by then the damage was done.
“Our kids came out prepared, came out focused and with a lot of energy,” Lotief said. “They’ve been like that all year. I still expect this tournament to challenge us.”
A bigger challenge likely comes in Friday’s 11 a.m. winners’ bracket finals, where UL-Lafayette will face a surprise foe in Texas State. The third-seeded Bobcats followed the shutout pitching of Randi Rupp and a four-run third inning to an afternoon 5-0 win over second-seeded and tournament host South Alabama.
The winner of that game moves into Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game, while the loser faces a late Friday elimination game to get back to the title game.
The Cajuns, going for their 13th Sun Belt tournament title and their first since 2014, tallied twice in the bottom of the first when Haley Hayden singled and Shellie Landry walked. Chance got two outs before Craighton drove her second pitch into right field to score Hayden. GSU right fielder Remington Hasty bobbled the ball for a moment to allow Landry to score from first base.
It was about that time that the rains picked up at USA’s Jaguar Field, and the field was cleared before the start of the second inning. When play resumed 50 minutes later, Georgia State (31-27) scratched across a run when Mandy Blackwell and Brenna Skalski both singled to lead off the inning and Skalski scored on Reagan Morgan’s ground ball.
That was before the Cajuns unloaded with Kelli Martinez, Hayden and Lexie Elkins each getting RBI singles before Craighton’s two-run double. Four other runs scored on bases-loaded walks and hit batsmen.
Elkins’ RBI single, one that made it 5-0, was especially significant since the senior catcher and recently named Sun Belt Player of the Year was making her first on-field appearance since March 29. Elkins, the national leader in home runs per game and sporting a .538 season batting average, has been sidelined by a broken thumb and has missed the last 19 games.
She went 1-for-4 in her return, but Lotief wasn’t worried about those numbers.
“I’ve been telling everyone she’s not superwoman,” he said. “She’s not going to pick things up instantly where she left off. I don’t know if people realize how tough she is … to have a broken thumb and be back there receiving pitches … she’s just a competitor. It was definitely a good thing to see her back out there.”